By Tony Massarotti
In New York, in the bowels of the Bronx, reputations are forged in October. From Aaron Judge to Luis Severino to Didi Gregorius and beyond, their legacies will be forged in the cool, crisp darkness of autumn.
There is no telling where this all goes from here, of course, and not just in 2017. But let’s say this with great confidence and certainty:
The Yankees are back.
“The crowd tonight was unbelievable. They were in the bleachers, jumping up and down. I almost felt like — and this is a good thing — that I was at a college football game again,” Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, told reporters following the game. “It’s as loud as I’ve heard it in a long time.”
Playoff baseball returned to New York last night, the Yankees claiming an 8-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins in a game soaked with drama from the very first pitch. Severino fell on his face. The Twins forged ahead. And then, before you could write off the Yankees as unready for primetime, Girardi acted decisively, and New York rallied, rumbling into the American League Division Series as if riding on the D train.
Lest there be any doubt, baseball is better when the Yankees are in it, in October, when New York has a team the city can truly believe in, like this one. Maybe the Yankees aren’t quite good enough yet. They probably are not. But they are absolutely, positively getting there, built around a Bunyan-esque right fielder, who clubs home runs with the force a lumberjack, who is coming off arguably the greatest rookie season in baseball history.
Judge may be a fluke still. Maybe he will never be as good as he was in 2017. But in his first trip into October, Judge looked more like Reggie Jackson than he did Dave Winfield, Mr. October instead of Mr. May. He was seemingly in the middle of everything the Yankees did, as New York overcame an early 3-0 deficit to advance to the Division Series against the mighty Cleveland Indians.
Said Girardi of his young players, of the future of the Yankees: “A lot of them showed up in a big way.”
Before we get stupid, know this: in his first eight games as a member of the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez batted .395 with three home runs, eight RBI, 11 runs scored and a 1.228 OPS. After that, in 16 games covering four postseasons, A-Rod batted .143 with 18 strikeouts and eight hits in 16 games. The Yankees didn’t win the World Series until they rebuilt the roster around Mark Teixiera and CC Sabathia. By then, the Rodriguez legacy as an October failure had long since been etched, and there isn’t a damn thing A-Rod can do about it.
This is all obviously good news for Severino, whose first career postseason appearance lasted six batters, 29 pitches and one out. As good as Severino’s stuff is, his ability (or inability) to harness his emotions (and stuff) is incredibly apparent, which is why Girardi was on the phone so quickly you wondered if he was dialing 9-1-1.
Girardi knows October, after all. He was a player when the Yankees launched their last dynasty. This incarnation of the Yankees has absurdly large shoes to fill. But what we can say now, without much hesitation, is that the Yankees are back on the baseball map, back where they belong in the heart of October, built more to last than they have been in a very long time, back to making Yankee Stadium the kind of place where opponents crack in the autumn air.
The Yankees may not win the World Series this year, folks. They may not win next year, either. Or even the year after. But these Yankees are not a fluke, not comprised of free-agent castoffs just passing through, not constructed with a quick-fix, short-term mentality that has made them, too often recently, a fun summer fling.
No, for the long haul, the Yankees are back.
And make no mistake that baseball, on the whole, is better for it.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.